2011 Dec. 29: CA San Francisco Bay Area: Christmas crackdown on fireplaces yields 400 complaints; New Year’s may be next
By Mike Rosenberg
Posted: 12/27/2011 06:53:05 PM PST
Updated: 12/28/2011 07:28:03 AM PST
Air quality continues to suffer in the San Francisco Bay Area, as seen from the Oakland, Calif….
The Bay Area’s air-quality police were out in force over Christmas weekend, cracking down on wood fires. And the smoke cops could be sending out belated stocking stuffers — hefty fines — to several dozen people caught using their fireplaces.
Regulators said more than 400 people tattled on their neighbors for lighting wood fires in their homes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, a holiday tradition that was illegal this year because of poor air quality.
Authorities say they didn’t issue any fines on the spot but are sorting through 77 cases of potential violations after working overtime, patrolling in Toyota Priuses and natural gas vehicles to spot chimney smoke and respond to complaints.
burning fires in their homes for the first time since the winter “Spare the Air” campaign began in 2008 will receive a warning, while repeat offenders will get $400 tickets.
But the Bay Area Air Quality Management District isn’t worried about coming off like a grinch — and doesn’t plan on showing any leniency just because it’s Christmas time.
“People don’t get to take a break from breathing because it’s a holiday,” said Lisa Fasano, an air district spokeswoman. “And, unfortunately, this year people had very unhealthy air to breathe on Christmas Day.”
Bay Area residents planning New Year’s Eve house parties or hoping to watch the New Year’s Day parades and football games by the fire, take note: The air district said Tuesday
it might also have to ban fireplace burns this weekend.
The air district prohibits fireplace use when air quality becomes too unhealthy, as it was over the weekend. The main culprit is the dry air that traps in pollutants, with this being the driest December since 1989, Fasano said.
Since the winter season began Nov. 1, the district has received 2,200 complaints about wood fires and banned fireplace burns on 10 days.
Frank Natale and his wife came back to their Concord home over the weekend after being away for a few months, still unable to use their furnace because the city hadn’t finished inspecting their new gas pipes. With the house freezing and their electric heaters not cutting it, they lit the fireplace.
“I had three different strangers coming over ringing the doorbell a ton of times, and I open up the door, and they start yelling at me because I’m polluting the air,” said Natale, a 60-year-old plastic injection mold maker.
“It was a full-on assault and attack, like I’m a bad, bad person for the environment,” he added. “I’m just rolling my eyes going, ‘Do they not understand that some people have a reason’ ” to use the fireplace.
An air district employee soon showed up and told Natale that if he gets a ticket in the mail to send it back with the city paperwork showing that his furnace was still inoperable — a legitimate excuse for having to light a fire.
Then Natale slammed the door.
In the fireplace wars of 2011, the people doing the complaining are often concerned about the health of those with fragile lungs, especially the young and elderly.
Lucinda Dutcher, who had a heart attack on a Spare the Air day a couple of years ago, said she didn’t report any fires over the weekend — partly because she didn’t want to walk around looking for violators with all the smoke in the air.
“We have to do something about this,” said Dutcher, a semiretired paralegal in Oakland. “This whole sentimental fire-burning is hurting people.”
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705.